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Candid Conversation With Mayor McCarty
Oakdale Mayor J.R. McCarty is a proponent of people utilizing face masks as the region navigates its way through the COVID-19 pandemic. DENNIS D. CRUZ/THE LEADER

The month of June was a wild one to say the least … for the entire country and the City of Oakdale as well.

Oakdale Mayor J.R. McCarty took time to sit down with The Leader recently for an interview that touched on many topics including COVID-19, Black Lives Matter and his future as mayor of the Cowboy Capital of the World.

McCarty is not only the mayor of Oakdale but also serves as the store manager at local supermarket, Cost Less. The grocery store is currently enforcing a mask rule where all customers, vendors and employees must wear a mask to enter the facility.

“I take COVID-19 very seriously. The illness has taken several lives worldwide, and in our county alone there are 45 deaths, 45 too many for it not to be taken seriously,” said McCarty.

When asked if he feels that every store in Oakdale should enforce a mask rule he replied; “Yes, absolutely. If it is good for one it should be good for all. We all as a community should do our best to slow the pandemic down.”

The coronavirus has forced McCarty into many changes on how he conducts his job as mayor as well.

“COVID-19 has made me adapt to change as a leader in our town. Our City Council meetings are done via Zoom. We miss having the interaction with the public at those. The public input on topics is very crucial for us.”

Residents still have the opportunity to provide input on the Zoom meetings but for many, it is not the same as being there in person.

COVID-19 has taken its toll on the community in many ways since mid-March and has resulted in the cancellation or postponement of many events including graduations, rodeo, Chocolate Festival and other scheduled gatherings.

“It breaks my heart, it truly does. Those events are supposed to be fun traditions for families as well as the individuals that are involved in them,” McCarty noted.

Locally owned businesses and franchises in Oakdale have suffered greatly due to COVID-19 as well.

“It is a huge gut punch to our town when small business owners are forced to shut down or even limit services. It’s difficult and I wish there was more that I can do to help out,” the mayor admitted.

In June, Oakdale was the site of a Black Lives Matter peaceful protest, a protest which Mayor McCarty and his family attended. For the most part it was a peaceful one and the message of peace and equality was being felt. However, towards the end of the protest things took a very bad turn. Tensions flared when a group of protestors and counter protestors got into an altercation resulting in a melee that required police interaction.

“I was ashamed. That’s how I would describe it, ashamed. After a great turnout, and what I thought was encouraging and improving our relations in our town turned ugly, ignorant and unnecessary. My wife, myself and others were cleaning up the water bottles, pizza boxes and other debris that was left in the streets, and I was so upset and angry that I began to cry and broke down.”

McCarty also spoke on the videos that surfaced of the counter protestors where they were observed making derogatory remarks and gestures.

“It hurts that we still have people out there who think that it is okay to act like that. It is not welcomed or acceptable in Oakdale, period.”

The weekend following the original protest, there was word of a possible second protest, though not being put on by the same group. Many businesses remained boarded up over the weekend out of concern and there was a militia presence in the community for a time as well.

“They were hired by someone in our town to help protect their business. I was at the Community Center, where the protest was scheduled to take place, and saw them on buildings and in the streets,” McCarty said of the militia. “It was not by my direction or the Oakdale Police Department that they came to town.”

The second protest never materialized.

McCarty also spoke on his support for the Oakdale Police Department.

“I think that Chief Scott Heller and the department are doing a great job and keeping the peace in our town. Their job is very dangerous but they always answer the call and help protect our town.”

The mayor also took a quick look into the future.

“I promised my wife years ago that I had a plan and layout for my political career. I wanted to serve on the City Council and I did that. I then wanted to serve one term as Mayor of Oakdale. My term is up in 2022, and I will fulfill that promise to her. At the end of my term, I will not run again,” he said. “I love this town and our community very much. I hope that I have made an impact for the better here and will continue to do so throughout the rest of my term.”